SA sugar industry success needs young farmers

SA sugar industry success needs young farmers

The future success on South Africa’s sugar industry depends on young farmers, particularly those who take advantage of industry training programmes, says KwaZulu-Natal sugarcane grower, and industry leader, Tim Sibisi.

SA Canegrowers’s board member and commercial grower, Tim Sibisi says a thriving sugar industry in the country now depends more than ever on the creativity and enthusiasm of the sector’s younger farmers.

In 2013 Sibisi was awarded a 1 300ha sugarcane, timber and macadamia farm by the South African government in a R50 million land claim near Jollivet in Southern KwaZulu-Natal.

From the very start, the former member of the South African Police Service and forensic investigator at Standard Bank, appointed his sons, Sihle and Buhle as managers for the concern.

“I am so fortunate to have two sons who love farming. But, now that we have the land, it’s up to them to learn more, to do more research, to come up with creative ideas and solutions for the future sustainability of our sector,” Sibisi said.

And, when SA Canegrowers’ launched its landmark internship programme in 2019, the farmer was one of the first to welcome one of the selected candidates – Zimasa Cingo – onto his team.

Cingo, who has just completed her Masters’ Degree in Agriculture with a specific focus on sustainability, says she chose agriculture as a profession because she wanted to “look out for the generations to come”.

“More women must take up farming. It can be lonely, that’s true. And particularly during the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020 and 2021 when I wasn’t able to go home to see my family in Lusikisiki in the Eastern Cape. But I want to say to the young women who are thinking about farming as a career: life generally is not easy, it’s hard, but don’t wait for others to come and save you. Put yourself out there, be ready to learn, and don’t feel intimidated. The first time I went to a Macadamia farmers’ meeting I was the only woman. But one of the men came up to me and said ‘don’t worry you will get used to us’, and that helped me so much,” she said.

Cingo said the SA Canegrowers’ internship programme had launched her career. “At university we learn more theory. When I came here to TBS Holdings I knew nothing about practical farming. This is my fourth year here and I am going strong. I am part of a wonderful team and I have learned so much – it has been a fun journey,” she said.

Buhle, Sibisi’s youngest son has concluded two agricultural courses at the Sugar Training Centre at the industry’s headquarters at Mount Edgecombe. “I am planning to go back and do a few more courses as there is so much that I want to learn. I am also learning from my brother, Sihle, and our neighbouring commercial farmers – the older people – who have that wisdom and knowledge,” Buhle said.

With good rains in the spring and the summer, Sihle said they were expecting a bumper harvest this year.

“Every year there are different challenges. This year will be no different. But each new challenge means we have to gather new knowledge and find ways to improve on how we do things,” he said.

While Sibisi said he was grateful to South Africa’s Minister of Finance Enoch Godongwane for postponing the recently announced sugar tax hike for a year, he called on the government to speed up enabling legislation to allow the sector to diversify its production.

“There is so much we can do with sugarcane. We can make bio-diesel, ethanol, bio-plastics – the list is long – but we need the government to pay attention to this. About one million people depend on the sugar industry for their livelihoods. It is one of the most important employers in the agriculture sector. We have to protect its future,” he said.

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